Having just watched "Alexander Nevsky," I was expecting this to be another highly dramatized Soviet-style polemic/drama. "Alexander Nevsky" is all that plus a poor print quality and a horribly garbled Prokovief score (this in the one at Google Video anyway; a better version is apparently out on VHS) -- not to mention the Stalinist-era flies crawling over the prince during scenes in his castle! -- and yet it still is fun to watch because of the way Eisenstein tells the story and films it.
"Battleship Potemkin" is different. There is a little bit of revolutionary talk near the start, but it very soon takes on the feel of a documentary. This may be because it was made only 20 years after the event. How else to film a historical event that your audience already knows by heart and perhaps even participated in, but to go to the place it happened and use your camera like a journalist's eyes to tell the story, not necessarily of the real events, but of those everybody wants to believe happened.
It just doesn't seem like a silent movie. It is very immediate and real, even in 2008.
There are some tremendous archtypes here, and the director is wise enough to strengthen them by not taking anyone's side but to just let everything unfold without explanation or justification, whether it be good ("Brothers!"), bad (the various murders), or ugly (the anti-Semitism).
The score, using excerpts of Shostakovich's symphonies, helps bring your heart into it, too; this is especially noticeable near the end where there is some fast camera work focusing on the ship's pounding machinery (and by inference, the crew's pounding hearts?) as "Potemkin" races to meet the incoming squadron. The music could have been written for that scene (see http://www.marinsymphony.org/Shostakovich_score.htm
for a more detailed look at the links between this film and the music).
The Odessa Staircase sequence is one of the most harrowing film sequences I've ever watched. Never mind that there is debate about what really happened on that staircase in 1905; what is portrayed here *has* happened in many places, and not just in revolutionary settings, all over the world and throughout human history. The horror...the horror....
Eisenstein's genius shows in what follows, when he turns the sailors' response into an even worse horror, one unique to civil war, and shows close-ups of the faces of some of the animals on the opera house: even nature seems to be aghast at what humanity is capable of.
Well, I can't say too much more without giving away spoilers. This is a very high quality print; the sound of the score is terrific, and this is well worth watching again and again.